Sustainable Innovation

French Building Sector should speed up process of BREEAM-HQE alignment

The UK based Sustainable Building Organisation BRE Global, the French CSTB and its certification body Certivéa have signed an MOU in June 2009. The objective is to align the Environmental Building Certification Schemes BREEAM and HQE. The organisations want to develop one unique certification scheme for the French market. An important requirement is the compatibility with other BREEAM certification schemes in Europe. The progress seems to stagnate. The French Building Industry Partners should urge the responsible parties to speed up the process in order to maintain their international market position (1,2). 


BRE and CSTB have signed MOU in June 2009 for further international alignment of Sustainable Building Certification Methods – notably BREEAM and HQE.

What happened since June 2009 ?  In France, the main certification scheme so far remains HQE. The Best Practices of Bouygues Immobilier show some good examples of this. In the French press, there is hardly any news about BREEAM scheme, nor about the BRE-CSTB alignment project that is going on. How come ? What is happing ? Why should the French Building Industry be concerned ?

BREEAM is being rolled out all over Europe

In 1990, the UK based Building Research Establishment (BRE) has launched the BRE Environment Assessment Method (BREEAM). It involves an environmental assessment and certification for Retail buildings, Offices, Education, Prisons, Courts, Healthcare, Industrial, Specialised buildings and Multi-Residential buildings. Since the nineties over 700,000 buildings have been registered and 135,000 buildings have been assessed by one of the 4000 official BRE licensed accessors, certified by BRE Global (3) .

Whilst the first certification projects started abroad, it soon became evident that environmental legislation, climate and soil specifics vary from one country to the other. BRE Global therefore created the BREEAM International Framework. This framework is a tool to allowing an adaptation to local contexts while ensuring comparison of buildings across borders.

In Europe, the BREEAM Europe Commercial scheme was the first step in that direction. The Commercial Scheme allows retail, office and industrial buildings to be assessed using one unique methodology across Europe that takes into account specificities of each national context.

BRE Global is now taking the principle one step further. The organisation, still based in Great-Brittan, is creating partnerships with local building certification bodies or national Green Building Councils. The partnership objectives are to develop local versions of the scheme available in the local language and managed locally to ensure national ownership within the overall International framework.

As a consequence, it will be much easier for international companies, public organisations and building developers to compare sustainable buildings between countries.  One unique methodology across borders to facilitate the reporting of the environmental performance of their buildings at the corporate scale while ensuring that their local design teams have access to national needs and construction practices.


Principles of the BREEAM assessment method, one single ‘note’ is given, based on an assessment of all aspects of Management, Healt & Wellbeing, Energy, Transport, Water, Materials, Waste, LandUse & Ecology, Pollution and Innovation (3),

Since 2008, a number of countries have validated the BREEAM International framework through their official bodies : Among them are The Netherlands , by the Dutch Green Building Council, who lauched their locally adapted version of the scheme called BREEAM NL in October 2009 ;  Ireland, Spain and Latvia are in the process of working on the adaptation process in close cooperation with industry stakeholders; Turkey, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Poland and Bulgaria through their respective national Green Building Councils (GBCs). The GBC of these last countries have also decided to adapt BREEAM into their national sustainable building certification scheme and will soon be setting up working groups to start the process (4). More countries are still in discussion.

Local guidelines are built interactively in a series of consultations with stakeholders such as governmental bodies, building industry partners and scientific experts. This ensures maximum ownership and relevance of the scheme. For the participating companies joining BREEAM International methodology was seen as a very logical business step as their customers increasingly require Sustainable Buildings, on an international scale.

In green countries assessments of projects are currently carried out using the BREEAM Europe Commercial guidelines.[AA1]  

France has developed the HQE scheme for tertiary buildings

In France, the ‘Centre Scientifique et Technique du Batiment’ (CSTB) and its certification body ‘Certivea’ are responsible for the ‘Haute Qualite Environmentale’ (HQE) method. The method was launched in 2005 in France. It consists of 14 pillars spread over 4 themes ‘ Eco-construction’, ‘ Eco-Management’, ‘Comfort’ and Health’ . HQE has become the new standard for tertiary buildings in France. 380 buildings have been certified since. It is expected that half of the tertiary building to be operation in 2010 should be HQE certified (5). Apart from projects in Belgium, Luxembourg and Algeria, the HQE method has so far not been further adapted outside France.

The 14 pillars of the HQE method (5), 3 pillars should be ‘very good’, 4 pillars should be ‘good’, the rest could be ‘basic’ performance

What are the plans of BRE, CSTB and Certivea ?

The cooperation of CSTB, Certivea and BRE should eventually lead to the ‘delivery’ of one unique certification scheme in France by Certivea. Whether this would be a kind of ‘BREEAM-France’ (which would be logical from an European perspective), a HQE-BREEAM mix or totally newly developed international sustainable building guidelines, remains the question.

1. Phase 1 : The first phase (foreseen June 2009 – January 2010) should have resulted in the translation of the BREEAM Europe Commercial scheme (covering retail, offices, and industrial buildings) to French local context. Certivea will act as the certification body on behalf of BRE Global during this first phase, facilitating the communication in France and reassuring the BREEAM methodology. So far, there has not been any communiction about the results of the first pahse. It was heard that working groups with key industry partners should be start this month (april). It remains unclear if CSTB, Certivea and BRE are still willing to proceed.

2. Phase 2a : Certivea would be the new and sole representative of BREEAM in France on behalf of BRE Global for 36 months. The BREEAM certification process will remain the same, in particular BREEAM International assessors will still be carrying out assessments for the clients. Customers would be able to choose between HQE and BREEAM in this period.

3. Phase 2b : was envisaged in case a totally new (third generation) certification scheme would be relevant to the local contact. In this case, a new certification scheme should be developed.

4. As of phase 3 one unique certification scheme should see the daylight applicable in France ánd abroad.

Why should the French Building Industry be concerned about the delay ?

BREEAM is now quickly rolled out over Europe. More and more countries sign up. The number of assessors, certified and registered buildings is largely outnumbering the French HQE standard. Multinational companies ánd International Public Bodies develop Sustainable Purchase Rules on a rapid scale, including Sustainable Buildings.

Meanwhile, the process of the ‘alignment’ of CSTB and BRE seems to be delayed. It remains unclear why. May it be a question of ‘ not invented here’, may it be an English/French rivalry?  In any case : the three step process is unlikely to move foreward without any pressure from the private sector.

It is just a question of time before the Building RFPs of Multinationals and European Union Institutions will contain BREEAM certification criteria. If the French Building Industry wants to keep up their international role, they should make sure to be properly informed and trained on the BREEAM scheme !

How could the process be brought back on track ?

First of all, French property developers should therefore increase their knowledge about this international standard as quickly as possible. For their own proper commercial benefit it would be necessary to gain knowledge about this international certification method, share information and experiences with industry peers abroad, for instance the International Sustainabilty Alliance. See also the article about the Dutch property developer and ISA founding member Redevco.

Secondly the large French Property Developers (such as Bouygues Immobilier, BNP Immobilier, Eiffage and Vinci) should work together in with the CSTB and Certivéa to adapt the BREEAM International scheme to the national French characteristics. Why not creating a ‘French Green Building Council’ , like in the Northern European countries, a platform of public and private representatives ? It would be for the benefit of international transparence,  the environment and the international market position of the French building industry.

Sources : 1. ‘ Rapprochement des certifications environnementales HQE et Breeam’, Isabelle Duffaure-Gaillais, 22/06/2009 ; 2. ‘ Frequently Asked Questions Alignment BREEAM – HQE ’, February 2010 : ; 3.  BREEAM International Presentation Slides 2009. ; 4. ‘International Sustainability Alliance to drive international sustainability standards’ ; 5. ‘Build today, preserving for tomorrow, brochure of Certivea’ 2009.


Best Practices at Bouygues Immobilier

bouygues_immobilier 2Agnès Lostis 4

Agnès Lostis, Director ‘Développement Durable’ at Bouygues Immobilier

Mrs Agnès Lostis is Director ‘Développement Durable’ at Bouygues Immobilier as of 2008. She is a seasoned manager with several years of experience heading sustainable activities at JC Decaux, an outdoor advertising company.

Bouygues Immobilier is a leading French property developer with 1600 employees operating in 5 countries. It generates an annual turnover of 2 900 million euros in 2008. The company develops housing projects, office buildings and business parks (1).

Part of the Bouygues Group. Bouygues Immobilier is part of the Bouygues Group that also includes  Bouygues Construction, Television channel TF1, Bouygues Télécom and road manufacturer Colas (1).

CR Strategy endorsed by the Group CEO. The Group President Martin Bouygues has strongly endorsed Sustainable Development as of 2006. He wants the Bouygues Group, as a top French company, to set the example and formalise its approach with respect to social and environmental themes. To emphasize his commitment he appointed his brother Olivier Bouygues to lead the Sustainable activities throughout the Bouygues Group.

1. What are the CR objectives ?

Bouygues Immobilier wants to be frontrunner. The companies objectives are in line with but ahead of legislation following the ‘Grenelle d’Environment‘. [For instance, Bouygues Immobilier has committed to an average energy use of its new buildings equivalent to 10% below regulated level for 2010 – which may vary between 80-260 kWh/m2/year depending on climate zone and energy source].

CR Implementation Top-Down. As in most French companies, objectives are set and implemented in a Top-Down way. In fact, it enables Lostis and her team to mobilise their colleagues and to achieve their ambitious goals.

Clear quantitative energy performance goals. Bouygues Immobilier stands out in a its sector. Where other property development companies only mention their ‘intention’ to reduce energy use, Bouygues Immobilier has already set detailed goals.

Stakeholder Information. Bouygues Immobilier stakeholders are informed about Sustainable Development goals and performance via a special Sustainable Development website and downloadable  reports on Sustainable activities (3,4).

Key commitments are the labels for sustainable buildings : H&E and HQE labels for respectively residential and office buildings.


The French property development labels ‘H&E’ for residential buildings of the CERQUAL institute (left) and ‘HQE’ for office buildings of the HQE Association (right)

Label H&E for Apartments. As of July 2007 all new Bouygues Immobilier apartments meet the Habitat & Environment (H&E) criteria. H&E is developed by the French building industry and implies low energy consumption, health, comfort and materials criteria.

Label HQE for its Office Buildings. The label Haute Qualité Environmental (HQE), has been developed for office buildings. It consists of 14 pillars applicable to project management, conception and realisation phases of the building process. The criteria are set by, among others, the ADEME, a French governmental environmental institute. HQE may be compared to the BREEAM certificate that is applicable in the UK, Passivhaus in Germany,  Minergie in Switzerland.

Carbon Footprint. Bouygues Immobilier is decreasing its greenhouse emissions by :

  • Discouraging employee travel.
  • Favouring low energy office equipment.
  • Gaining knowledge about calculating carbon footprint. The Bilan Carbon’ , helps to identify areas of improvement to develop more sustainable buildings.

Sustainable Purchase. On an international level, the Bouygues Group has committed itself to social and environmental responsabilities by signing the UN Global Compact in 2006. To ensure its suppliers act accordingly, it has created Corporate Social Responsibility Supplier guidelines. The companies ‘Charte RSE Fournisseurs’ has now become an obligatory clause in all purchase contracts.

Green Office. Bouygues Immobilier frontrunning position is being endorsed by the development of a Green Office in Meudon just outside of Paris. The office building, to be realised in 2010, will be energy positive. The energy surplus can be re-sold to energy providers (5). The office provides a showcase for :

  • applying bioclimatic architecture, such as an optimal positioning of the building with respect to sunlight ;
  • using natural ventilation, for instance with sophisticated indoor air transport and daytime variation ;
  • informing users with real-time meters encouraging them to limit energy use ;
  • applying solar panels and bio-fuels that produce energy for the building – and more.

Green office

The Green Office of Bouygues Immobilier in Meudon, near Paris

2. Is Sustainable Development a motor for Innovation ?

Lostis believes that Sustainable Development is all about questioning  : How has this been implemented  ? How can we change this to create a more durable situation ?’. These questions lead to innovation. Lostis identifies 3 kinds of innovation : Technological, Cost and Partner Innovation :

1. Technical innovation and training. First of all, sustainable development requires technical innovation. For instance, new kinds of insulation and ventilation that substantially reduce energy use are being developed  Technological innovation, though, will not deliver their promise without user adaptation. If end-users forget to turn off heating, forget to close windows and do not turn off their computers the pre-defined energy savings will not be obtained. Bouygues Immobilier therefore invests strongly in training of the new building owners and end-users.

2. Cost calculation innovation. Sustainable Development requires new ways of cost calculation. According to Lostis, better insulated buildings usually requires higher initial investment. Higher upfront costs (CAPEX) however are largely compensated by lower usage costs (OPEX). To make sustainable projects a success, it is necessary to explain the new cost calculation methods to all those involved. Fortunately, this new ‘Total Cost of Ownership’ method is slowly being accepted in the French real estate sector.

3. Partner cooperation innovation. A holistic approach is needed to develop solid and durable solutions. The perspectives of all stakeholders need to be taken into consideration. Sustainable Development can act as a catalyst for new ways of Partner Cooperation. Bouygues Immobilier has recognized they can not develop sustainable solutions without insights in, for instance, office equipment and service companies. They therefore, in 2008, created a consortium of companies that offer complementary products and services such as Philips, Schneider Electric, Siemens, Sodexho and Tandberg, called Enjeu Energie Positive’. The goal is to develop solutions with lower energy consumption, renewable energy opportunities and processes to minimise carbon footprint in building environments.

3. Does the economic crisis impact CR activities ?

Lostis notes a new openness towards Sustainable Guidelines : ‘We have reached the borders of a system. First in the financial markets, now we feel the necessity to change while seeing the films of Al Gore and Yann Bertrand Arthus.

‘There is a general sentiment that we have ‘crossed the line’ and there is now a need to change’.

Lostis is confident that this feeling of necessity will help to develop the sustainable activities in France. It will help the public acceptance of new laws and guidelines.

4. What is your outlook for Sustainable Development ?

The ‘Pacte Ecologique’ of Nicolas Hulot has marked a significant change in 2006. The manifest gained a lot of media attention. Sustainable Development has risen on the political agenda and has become a top priority, creating dialogues throughout the society.

Ecology is now a factor of importance in all political decisions. Companies feel the urge to define and implement their sustainable goals. The French public and the government are both demanding it.

Lostis hopes that the debates around the ‘Grenelle’ and the new laws that will follow will help to speed up the transition. Sustainable products will have to become ‘Business as usual’.

Sources : 1. ; 2., ‘Barometre annuel de la communication sur l’eco-performance des batiments’, Novethic, Sept 08 ; 3. ; 4. ; 5.